Why Does Menopausal Gut Health Matter?
Navigating your health during mid-life can seem like a minefield. Your body goes through so many changes that it can feel overwhelming, and as hard as you try to stay healthy, you may sometimes feel like it’s not enough. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.
How does each system interact with each other during menopause? How do the sex hormones affect all of these systems in different ways, and what can we do to help regain that balance?
Menopause and The Gut-Brain Axis
Our hormones influence more than just our reproductive organs. Estrogen receptors can be found everywhere in the body, from the skin to the brain, and even in the bones. These estrogen receptors bind onto estrogen molecules that get circulated throughout the body. When estrogen levels are imbalanced or low, they can’t bind onto estrogen receptors has effectively. Without enough estrogens to bind onto receptors, the body can’t metabolize those estrogens to regulate other processes.
One of the most important systems in the body that helps regulate this process is the gut-brain axis. There are hundreds of millions of neurons in both your brain and your gut microbiome. These neurons send signals back and forth, to ensure that the body receives essential information to maintain bodily functions. The menopausal transition impacts how effectively the gut-brain axis operates, and subsequently, how well estrogens bind onto estrogen receptors in other areas of the body.
Why A Healthy Gut Matters
The gut microbiome is the population of bacteria that live inside your digestive tract. These bacteria absorb nutrients from food and send them into the bloodstream for the body to use to regulate itself. Your gut microbiome is the second-largest information hub in your body, after the brain.
Menopause changes your gut microbiome. The imbalance of sex hormones affects hormone receptors that live inside your gut, which in turn has an effect on how well your microbiome performs and the balance of good bacteria that exist in it. When good bacteria start to decrease, your gut microbiome suffers. This can cause things like bloating, indigestion, decreased nutrient absorption, and much more.
So if the gut microbiome is the key to helping support menopausal symptom relief and overall health, what can you do to support a healthy gut?
What Your Gut Needs To Be Healthy: Fiber and Balance
The gut microbiome needs two things to be healthy: adequate levels of good bacteria and food. But it doesn't need just any kind of food; it requires fibrous food. Fiber is the part of a plant-based food source (i.e. fruits and vegetables) that can’t be broken down by the human stomach. Instead, bacteria break down fibers and feed off of them for nutrients.
Your gut bacteria need fiber to stay healthy. Fiber is what gives them the energy they need to absorb nutrients and send information to the brain. Without a food source, these bacteria can’t grow, but just because you’re feeding your gut bacteria fiber, doesn’t mean you’re helping re-balance your gut microbiome.
There are a few thousand bacterial strains that populate the stomach, which means that they all have to be balanced in order to work effectively. When certain strains of bacteria are higher than others, it can cause a bacterial buildup that impacts the health of the entire microbiome. You can also have bad bacteria enter your gut that disrupts your gut microbiome’s health.
Populating your gut with the right amount of good bacteria can help you regain that balance. This is what we call probiotic health. Then, with a fiber-rich diet, you can feed those probiotics (gut bacteria) with the right nutrients they need to stay at healthy levels.